Also called the “Sustainable Corn Project,” the five-year, $20 million NIFA-funded endeavor was started in 2011; was directed by Lois Wright Morton, professor of sociology at Iowa State University; and included teams from 10 land-grant universities and two USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratories in nine Midwestern states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
More resilient, sustainable corn production
An overarching goal of the project was to make corn-based cropping systems more resilient and sustainable and to develop a suite of practices for corn-based systems that:
- Retain and enhance soil organic matter and nutrient and carbon stocks
- Reduce off-field nitrogen losses that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution
- Better withstand droughts and floods
- Ensure productivity under different climatic conditions
The project engaged more than 150 cooperator farmers, who partnered with team scientists and educators to share their knowledge and learn from project research.
Buckeyes played several key roles
Scientists in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences led and contributed to several key objectives of the nationally recognized project.
Richard Moore, emeritus professor in the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR), served as project coordinator for the Ohio State team. He led the education objective of the project, which focused on training the next generation of scientists, developing science education curricula, and promoting learning opportunities for high school teachers and graduate and undergraduate students on climate, agriculture and sustainability.
Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of soil science in SENR, served as project leader for objective 1 of the overall project to standardize methodologies to monitor carbon, nitrogen and water footprints at agricultural test sites across the Midwest.
Warren Dick, professor emeritus of soil and environmental biochemistry in the school, used the methods of objective 1 to study the effect of cover crops, tillage and crop rotation on crop production and soil quality. Part of the multistate project involved studying long-term tillage and rotation plots in Ohio.
No-till plots were crucial
“The Ohio State long-term no-till plots at OARDC (the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster) started in the early 1960s, and, supervised by Dr. Warren Dick, are the oldest continuously maintained no-tillage plots in the United States and played a critical role in the project,” Moore said.
Kristi Lekies, associate professor and Ohio State University Extension specialist in SENR, led the evaluation for various components of the grant, mainly focusing on environmental education. The components included climate camps for science and agriculture teachers, webinars and professional development opportunities for graduate students, and a three-credit course on climate, agriculture and water held at Ohio State’s Stone Lab on Lake Erie.
A number of Ohio State graduate students were involved in the project and were advised by the Ohio State team members.